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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Belarus offers olive branch to U.S., but condemns pressure

RIA Novosti

28/03/2008 17:44 MOSCOW, March 28 (RIA Novosti) - The Belarusian foreign minister said on Friday that Minsk is willing to develop friendly relations with the United States if Washington stops pressuring the country.

Belarus is currently under U.S. economic sanctions over the leadership's clampdown on democratic freedoms, and the ambassadors of the two countries were withdrawn earlier this month.

Sergei Martynov told reporters in Moscow: "We reject any pressure on Belarus and are prepared to normalize relations on a friendly basis."

Tensions between the two countries heightened after Washington imposed sanctions last November on Belarus's state-controlled petrochemical company Belneftekhim and froze the assets of its U.S. subsidiary.

The diplomat said the key to improving relations is the lifting of sanctions, which the ministry has called "economic blackmail, banned by international law."

"Should this happen, further steps will be viewed in an entirely different light," he said.

Belarus's authoritarian image was further bolstered on Tuesday, when over 100 opposition protesters were arrested during a march in central Minsk. An opposition leader described riot police viciously beating protesters, including women, and dragging them into police vans.

Belarusian hardline leader Alexander Lukashenko, dubbed by Washington "Europe's last dictator" for clamping down on dissent and stifling the media, is currently barred, along with other senior officials, from entering the U.S. and the European Union.

Earlier this month, Washington recalled its ambassador from Belarus following pressure from the country's authorities. The Belarusian ambassador to the U.S. had been summoned home earlier.



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